May 8Liked by E. Andrew Taylor

Nice outlining of the problem, Andrew. At the heart of the issue is the competition for attention and the impossibility of sorting through it all. Choice fatigue is an affliction that exhausts us all. The average American spends 4.5 hours a day on their phones (teenagers about 8.5 hours) in front of an endless scroll of distraction from which it's difficult to break out. Curational algorithms have both addicted us to the screen equivalent of junk food and dulled our initiative to fight through the clutter to find nutrition.

In the process it's loosened the relationships between artists and their audiences. When the endless scroll eliminates friction of finding things to be distracted by, you swipe up the moment you're even slightly bored. You're not choosing things to watch or listen to, you're banishing the dancing monkey as soon as the antics grow tiresome. In such an environment, it gets more and more difficult for creators to break through if you don't speak to the algorithm, no matter how good what you do is. And the problem is getting exponentially worse with floods of new synthetic AI content flooding all the platforms, all of which are optimizing to the algorithms which are then optimized on the AI-Synths in some sort of doom loop.

While I wholeheartedly agree with Conte in being clear about motivations and expectations, and Patreon is a terrific idea and platform and model, getting your voice/content discovered is seriously broken right now as social media platforms (including even TikTok) are collapsing on themselves, overrun by bots, ads and fakes. And we're starting to see new attempts to make content discoverable -- like Substack and others.

Part of what led to the problem is the near monopolies of the giant platforms, which for many people is now what they think the internet is. Thankfully Lina Khan at the FTC is making some beginning moves to try to loosen their grip. But I also have some hope that AI - which is/will blow up the problem with the astonishing overwhelming quantity of stuff it can create (Spotify is currently taking down about 100K AI-Gen tracks every day), will also offer some interesting solutions to solve the sorting/distraction problems. Already seeing some cool stabs at that.

Anyway, thanks for the post -- it helps define the binary.

(BTW -I always loved the 1000 True Fans idea. Maybe it seems quaint now (though SubStack is clearly its spiritual progeny), but it speaks to that time-tested notion of fans who love an artist or organization choosing to invest in them).

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Thanks Doug. Great reflections and connections! I do think the competition for attention has shifted strategies in the past few years. It used to be that your social graph would anchor you to a platform – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. You were given feeds that had social relevance to you. But TikTok took a different tack, where social ties meant nothing – only the algorithm to maximize watchtme. Other platforms have followed suit, and continue to do so.

I agree that leads to a broken pipeline between artist and audience, as well as a broken assumption that social media is actually social anymore. As Cal Newport has framed it, social media is an arena now, not a town square.

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May 8Liked by E. Andrew Taylor

While I sort of share your diagnosis, Douglas, I wonder how you explain a phenomenon like, say, "Oppenheimer" this summer. I would argue that the general public is hungering for art that makes them think and makes them feel, but instead they keep getting fed art that is has the depth of, well, social media -- so why leave home? I've long been a fan of "1000 True Fans," because it's focus isn't simply "butts in seats," but the much more difficult "RIGHT butts in seats." And that requires artists to really know their art form and reflect on how it connects to the people they want to perform for.

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May 9Liked by E. Andrew Taylor

Scott: I've long felt that we don't spend enough time thinking about the "quality" of an audience instead of just focusing on the quantity. That working on building the culture of an audience is an important part of the equation -- how they engage, respond, interact both with the artists and institutions but also between them.

I think Barbenheimer was a bit of a singular event and kind of genius confluence that I'm guessing wasn't planned but that producers were thrilled by -- two well-made singular movies in which the seriousness of Oppenheimer gave "permission" for people to enjoy the super-stylized over-the-topness of Barbie. And the iconic American culture celebrated by the Barbie fans saw in Oppenheimer an historical event that had legit serious weight. Even if you didn't see both, they collectively felt like an event that celebrated the alpha/omega excesses of American culture.

I think people are hungry for events, but just not generic events but unique experiences, things that speak to the zeitgeist. People have demonstrated they'll pay huge prices for them -- Taylor Swift, Coachella, Superbowl, the Vegas Sphere...

And I think you're absolutely right - people are hungering for authentic real-world experiences that stand out from the endless online scroll. I think eliminating the friction of having to "choose" culture (and by that I don't simply mean the algorithmic selection, but also the simple ease of accessing the always-on constant drip) dulls our enthusiasm. Some of the best most meaningful experiences I can remember have required work to access them -- driving 1,200 miles to see a concert, hiking to the top of a mountain at 6AM to hear a sunrise concert -- and because it required investment on my part, I was invested in being part of the moment. This can also happen in many ways -- communities of Hogwarts fans or Dungeons and Dragons players that build and invest in a culture around something they love and consequently wouldn't dream of missing a gathering of their clan.

I actually think the endless scroll is an opportunity for the live analog event to reassert its value, because it stands out in contrast. But it has to truly stand out. We have often touted the live event as a kind of self-evident totemic good without ensuring it actually is -- marketing copy, for example, that promises transcendent experiences that turn out to be just another Tuesday night performance. And there's good friction to participate and bad friction, and I think now more than ever people are doing the calculations and making their choices.

For the moment though, we're still mired in a system, an infrastructure, built in so many ways to reward and promote one kind of value -- the quick hit, the outrageous take, the shallow response -- and the TikTok algorithms brilliantly play on that, burying the more nutritious stuff. The platforms are collapsing right now as they get overrun by ads, subscription fees go up and the engagement of users falls. Something will take its place, and I think there are some awfully interesting opportunities (and of course threats) with AI for better discoverability and engagement.

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